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City Will Help Slave Cottage

The dilapidated cottage, once owned by a former slave and rescued from the wrecking ball in October, will be put into the care of the city's Slave Trail Commission, says Jennie Knapp, executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods.

For nearly 150 years, the two-room frame house sat near the river in an industrial area in Manchester. It had been scheduled for demolition Oct. 14, until two South Side residents did some sleuthing and found that the little house shrouded in vines had been the residence of a former slave.

Knapp's group, ACORN, put up $12,000 to move the cottage to an undisclosed safe place.

There has been talk of turning the building into a visitors' center of some kind, but Knapp says she can't yet say where it will stand. The Slave Trail Commission was established in 1998 "to establish a national educational resource that will contribute to the healing of Richmond's racial history," according to city ordinance.

Now, Knapp says, "We're trying to piece together the lost world of Emily Winfree," the former slave who lived in the cabin. Records show she was born in 1835 and in 1866 became the owner of 100 acres and the cabin, where she lived until her death in 1905. "But where did she get all this money?" Knapp asks. "It was just unconscionable [in that era] that a black person would have had 100 acres and $800 to buy this cottage."

For now there are only guesses. Was Emily Winfree a former servant, or was she related to the family that owned the land? "I think the woman is becoming as interesting — or more interesting — than the house itself," Knapp says.

The cottage is a rare example of vernacular architecture, says Knapp, and once stood among about 17 other houses. Some neighbors call it the Poe House, but research has cleared the misconception that it is somehow linked to Edgar Allan Poe's family. The name is that of the last known resident, a white man who lived there from the 1950s until his death.

The saving of the cabin coincides with ACORN's recently launched project to save overlooked examples of African-American architecture in the city.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair